As we approach another Valentine's Day we think about our romantic connections and what the secret is to long-lasting relationships.
Psychotherapist and Relationship Expert, Peter Charleston's new book, Closer introduces 7 easy-to-learn principles that can help anyone improve how emotionally connected they are with significant people in their life.
Question: Can you tell us about your groundbreaking new book?
Peter Charleston: Closer introduces the 7 principles of connectedness. These are 7 emotional needs we all have in common that we all seek in our significant relationships. These 7 emotional needs are fundamental to creating emotional connections. They are also 7 emotional skills you can learn, and 7 emotional gifts you can give and receive.
Essentially, if relationships are important to us, these are the 7 things we need to understand in order for us to get the most out of our relationships. In other words, the book is about how to love using emotions in different contexts, but I don't use the word 'love' that often so as not to put people off reading it. I want anyone to be comfortable picking it up, buying it, and reading it on the train.
Question: What inspired the idea behind Closer?
Peter Charleston: My clients are the main inspiration – as a psychotherapist and executive coach I see a wide range of people from all walks of life, and the one thing they all have in common is the need to improve their relationships, at work and at home and in their wider family and friendship groups. No matter what the presenting issue, my clients will all talk about relationships, and we cover topics such as including how to date well, intimacy skills, conflict resolution, mis-interpretations, disagreements, significant events with loved ones, and so on. So this book helps summarise what I believe are the key skills people need to learn to improve all kinds of relationships. I see a lot of people struggle with their personal and professional relationships. There is a strong need for everyone to improve their interpersonal skills.
Question: Are we less connected in our relationships now than ever before?
Peter Charleston: There is now more of a danger than ever before that we are becoming less emotionally connected, because there are more distractions than ever before. And these distractions take us away from learning the key interpersonal skills we need to create satisfying relationships. And now that we relate to people indirectly, via technology such as social media and messaging, we don't get to practice the face-to-face interpersonal skills so much. There are 50 million swipes per day in Australia on Tinder, but most of this activity does not lead to much interaction at all. And so many people are on their phone in social settings that they miss real face-to-face social opportunities. I would hope the current dating scene would be more sophisticated and skilled than a decade ago, but it doesn't seem to be the case. I am regularly having conversations with my clients about dating disasters and relationship breakdowns. There are many people who need to learn how to date well, how to talk about yourself properly, how to take an interest in someone, what to ask, how to deal with rejection, and getting the timing of physical intimacy right. And what I emphasise, and what the book emphasises, is the more you work on your own personal development (the internal rather than just the external parts of your life, such as clothes, music and sport) the better you become at relationships. The more you know yourself, the better you can communicate that to someone else, and the more aware you are about what you want from a relationship. But most importantly, the more work you do on yourself, the less it becomes about you and your needs, the clearer you see your partner, and the more it becomes about -us' in relationship.
Question: Why do you believe books like Closer are so vital to modern relationships?
Peter Charleston: Closer provides you with an easy to learn way of improving your important relationships. It is a practical guide to learning how to communicate better on an emotional level. You dont learn these skills in formal education, and learning interpersonal skills through trial-and-error is full of heartache and distress – a lot of which can be prevented by learning the 7 principles within the book.
Question: What is the most common relationship problem you deal with?
Peter Charleston: This question is easy to answer – its poor communication. That is also why I wrote the book, to give partners a better way of expressing the things that matter to each other. I want to eliminate the awkward silence people fall into at the dinner table when they don't have any more to say to each other. The 7 principles provides you with insight into the deeper emotional level of a relationship, rather than just rely on talking about how your day was or the news or weather.
Question: What is your advice for couples in that particular situation?
Peter Charleston: If you are open to learn, there is a better way of communicating. It's not your fault that you are stuck – that's normal. But here is the solution – a way of exploring and expressing your emotions with each other that really connects you in a powerful way. A lot of people don't feel 'special' enough to their partner. The 7 principles in action help create this specialness and a sense of true teamwork.
Question: What did you learn from your time on Channel Seven's Seven Year Switch?
Peter Charleston: That there are literally hundreds and hundreds of Australians in long-term relationships that are on the brink of collapse who need help and don't know where to turn. And unfortunately most people think couples therapy is a last resort, and/or they can't afford it. I think if we want to mature as a country we need to invest in adult learning more seriously, including interpersonal skills and parenting skills. Now that there is less emphasis from the church on pre-marriage education, I would support couples having to attain an actual license to get married, much like a drivers licence where you learn practical skills and be tested on it.
Question: Will we have a new season of the show Channel Seven's Seven Year Switch, soon?
Peter Charleston: Not that I know of, that social experiment has ended.
Question: How will you be spending Valentine's Day?
Peter Charleston: It will involve a picnic away from the crowds, in a beautiful natural setting, and will include cheese, bread, wine, chocolate and laughter.
Interview by Brooke Hunter